(Picture: fishing boats anchored in Mazara del Vallo’s port, Sicily, filed pic. Source: Mazara’s fishing district, official website)
by Alessandro Pagano Dritto (Twitter: @paganodritto)
[October 10th, 2018 – Italy] Two Italian fishing boats have been seized by armed men who then have taken them to the Cyrenaican port of Ras al Hilal. This happened on October 9th between 9.00 or 10.00 pm, while the two vessels – named as Afrodite Pesca and Matteo Mazzarino – were “at about 30 miles off Derna”, the official statement from the Sicilian fishing district of Mazara del Vallo reports:
“The soldiers on the Libyan motorboat allegedly stopped the two fishing boats by shooting fire with no one injuried in the crews. They allegedly ordered the Captains to follow them until the port of Ras al Hilal, East of Derna; once in the port, they reportedly reassured them the boats would be possibly released as soon as the fine on the activity in the Exclusive Economic Zone would be calculated”
The statement describes the “Exclusive Economic Zone” as a maritime area “Libya unilaterally established in 2005, de facto expanding its national waters by 62 miles beyond the conventional 12”.
The Italian news agency AdnKronos reports the shooting would have caused some material damage to the boat Afrodite Pesca, a detail Mazara’s official statement does not share.
This is not the first time such an event takes place off Derna: a similar one dates back to May 2017 and a previous case of shooting had happened in January 2017. No crew was hurt back then and no one has reportedly been now that 13 individuals have been said to be in the Italian fishing boats according to Mazara’s district.
[Read about the May 2017 case of the Eastern Navy seizing an Italian fishing boat off Derna on Between Libya and Italy]
Even though no clear detail has been provided about the “soldiers” mentioned in the official statement, the Italian news agency Agenzia Nova quotes “a source from the Libyan Navy in Cyrenaica […] who has asked not to be mentioned” as saying “Sousse patrol unit” carried out the operation: the source also confirmed the boats were taken to Ras al Hilal’s port and a no better datailed inquiry over “exploitation of the Libyan national waters” is ongoing against the fishermen.
As soon as the news spread, the Italian leftwing MP Nicola Fratoianni blamed through his own Facebook account the Italian government for supporting and donating means to a Navy which “is not only jailing the migrants, but which might also risk our fellow nationals’ lives” and which “shoots at the fishing boats of our Country”. Yet, as Italy has really provided with means Tripoli’s Navy, but not Tobruk’s, it seems likely Fratoianni is misleading the Navies: in fact, it seems hard to think Tripoli’s Navy could ever take any seized vessel to Ras al Hilal, which lies about 50 kms West of Derna and however well beyond its own concrete range of action.
*UPDATING: October 13th, 2018.
[reupdated later the same day with the reported statement by LNA’s spokesman Ahmed Mismari]
The two Italian fishing boats seized off Derna last Oct 9th left Ras al Hilal on October 12th, at 1 am. No fine was imposed, the official statement by Mazara Del Vallo’s fishing district reported, yet the whole amount of the fish was seized by the Eastern Libyan authorities: just a “very small part” of it had been the result of the activities in the area the Libyan authorities hold under their legitimate control, it adds.
A Sicilian TV news reported the amount of the seized fish was 100.000 euros worth, so that the fishermen, among whom are some Tunisian nationals, are now going to spend some further time at sea before returning home and try to recover the economical loss. Still according to the TV news report, the most of the fish was from the Aegean Sea, where both the boats had spent three weeks before of being seized off Libya.
Last Oct 11th, at 2.20 pm, Mazara Del Vallo’s mayor Nicola Cristaldi said on You Tube “the Libyan authority took 72 hours of time to decide over the release” and 48 were already gone by; yet, already that day at 9.45, pm Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tweeted the two fishing boats were to return to Italy, even though he then provided no detailed timetable for that. Italy’s Ambassador to Libya Giuseppe Perrone, the mayor added, was following the issue personally from Rome.
On October 12th, an official statement from Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the two fishing boats had already left Libya.
Despite no official statement has apparently been issued by the LNA on the whole fact, LNA’s spokesman Ahmed Mismari reportedly confirmed the boats had entered the Libyan waters on Oct 10th. The Libyan News Agency close to Tobruk’s government quoted a confirmation by “spokesman of Libyan Naval Forces Ali Thabit” on October 11th, while Al Wasat quoted “the Commander of Tobruk’s naval base Major General Naji Boualiwa” that very day: so that, even with no attention paid to the mere Libyan political geography, there’s very little doubt left it was the LNA to carry out the seizure.